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It’s My Thing: Jim Sayce transformed his life by getting back into bike riding

Damian Mulinix

Published on July 11, 2017 2:27PM

Cycling has become a passion — and a life-changing one at that — for Jim Sayce, seen at the Seaview beach approach with his sand-defying fat tire bike.

DAMIAN MULINIX/For the Observer

Cycling has become a passion — and a life-changing one at that — for Jim Sayce, seen at the Seaview beach approach with his sand-defying fat tire bike.

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SEAVIEW — It could be said that Jim Sayce is a man always on the go. But until he found cycling again after an extended hiatus from the sport, it could also have been said that his health was going in the wrong direction.

Sayce, executive director of the Pacific County Economic Development Council, has worked a variety of jobs over the years. He also notably worked for the State Historical Society for 11 years, where he was hired to see the Station Camp project come to fruition. Sayce has bounced around some in the his professional career, but it’s how he likes it.

“I’ve worked a lot of gigs in my life. It’s served me pretty well,” he said.

He’d enjoyed cycling from an early age, but like many people, life kept him from pursuing it much as an adult. That is until his health demanded he find something that would help get his heart pumping more.

“The reason some people don’t lose weight riding is that cycling is so efficient,” he said. “I work at the upper limits because I want the cardio benefits. You wouldn’t believe the mental peace it gives you.”

As a historian, I’m sure you like to be outdoors. But before you took up cycling so heavily, would you have considered yourself a outdoorsy person?

“Oh absolutely. So I was an Eagle Scout, Troop 44, Ocean Park. We set a national record for camping one year, 63 nights out. As young men we were always camping in the Pacific Northwest in the rain, or in a field, or in a forest. When I went to Evergreen (State College) I taught myself how to ski cross country. I taught myself how to technical rock climb, scuba dive. I bicycled all the time in college. I bicycled cross country in 1976. I still have the bike, it’s pretty beat up. I enjoy the outdoors. I’m comfortable with it.”

What is it about biking that you enjoy so much and when did you take it back up seriously?

“I took it up seriously in my teens and 20s and then after I got out of school and came back here in the 1980s I dabbled a little, but life and work took precedence. Then in about 2005 the new National Parks superintendent (David Szymanski, who he worked closely with during the Station Camp project) got to talking. He’s a really good cyclist, fit as a fiddle. I’d gone through about a decade of heart arrhythmia. Initially it wasn’t serious but in the late 90s it started to bother me. But by ‘05 it was getting so it wasn’t a few seconds or a few minutes it went on for hours. I remember one time I went to sleep and I woke up and my heart was still in arrhythmia. I’d been in the emergency room a zillion times. It really bothered me. Eventually a doctor sat me down and said, ‘What you have won’t kill you, but it will scare you.’ He said what I need to do was go out and exercise so hard that you develop a good sweat. That’s a trigger point for your body’s systems. So I started walking, speed walking. But I realized as I was getting older my joints weren’t going to be able to take it. I realized after awhile that if you’re not running to get your heart rate up, you have to be walking damn fast. So that’s when I decided to take up cycling again. The Discovery Trail had just been built and my wife bought me a bike and I started up seriously. That’s been about seven years. It’s not an uncommon thing for people in my age group, who cycled when they were young and life and work take over. But they get older and want to stay in shape but they don’t want to run. And it really did help me. I started cycling on the trail and I’m getting better and faster. And I realized that the trail is good for slow speed, but not really for high speed cycling. So I switched to the road.”

You’ve done the big Seattle to Portland race a number of times now, what is it that keeps bringing you back?

“I’ve done it four times. A lot of people like me use it as a benchmark for health. I’m not going to do it every year, because it’s somewhat of a logistical pain in the ass, but I think I’ll probably do it every other year. I rode my fat bike in it last year. It’s 205 miles in two days. Some riders can do it in one day. I’m not interested in doing that, even though I could probably do it. It requires even more intense training. The first year I wasn’t even sure I could finish it. But I did it and it was fine.”

I was wondering if you had any funny stories from your many biking adventures?

“Which one? One morning I went out our driveway and I was peddling with my light on and I heard this snuffling around our garbage can and there was a mom and a cub black bear. Scared the crap out of me. I was able to take my light and shine it around and fortunately the cub went up the tree to my left and the mom took off in to the brush. I was so fortunate. But the funniest stuff happens when I’m riding. I was leaving the bike shop in Long Beach and these two guys were in this jacked up four wheel drive pick up — definitely two good old boys — and the passenger, a big guy, leans out the window and spots me and my fat bike, and he goes, ‘I gotta tell ya, that’s one badass bike!’ Gave me a big thumbs up. Now, when I’m on the road, I’m dressed in Lycra, riding a skinny tire bike. But when I ride that fat tire bike, it’s a weird thing. It is such a conversation piece. People are so curious about it. And I don’t care if they’re beachcombers, stoners, old guys, Harley riders, they all stop and want to know about it. ‘That’s the kind of bike I’d ride,’ they say.”

You were an early adopter of the fat tire bikes for riding on the beach, why do you like them?

“It gives me access to an environment that historically I rarely checked out as part of my life, and that’s the beach. We live here on this great beach and I’d rarely go out there. It dawned on me one day that the bike gives me access to the old concept of Long Beach as the ‘Speedway of the West.’ I’ve ridden from Beard’s Hollow to Ocean Park and back. I never run into a car sometimes. My wife had gotten concerned that I was going to get killed on the highway. I’d get up in the morning and ride to Naselle and back on 101. Or Hwy 4, ride that beautiful loop. But there isn’t much shoulder on that road. The beach was a respite from that. Because when you’re riding on the highway, you need to have total situational awareness. It’s just too easy to drift over 18 inches and get clipped by a side mirror (on a vehicle). But I can ride on the beach at any time, any tide. It’s taught me a lot about the beach environment that I wouldn’t have known, despite living here most of my life.”

How difficult is it to ride on the beach?

“It depends. Some day I’ll figure it out, but there’s probably eight different kinds of sand conditions out there. Soft sand is so dry you can’t cycle through it. But if it rains overnight you can because it hardens up the entire beach. It gives me new challenges.”

Can you talk a little about the importance of a regular fitness routine for you?

“I can’t sleep if I don’t ride. I used to be a morning rider but I’ve usually got to be on the road by a quarter to seven, so I’m mostly an evening and weekend rider now. But I’ll get home from work around six and jump on the bike and be gone an hour to an hour and half. And depending on how I feel I’ll go to Cranberry Rd. and back or Beard’s Hollow. I’ll do tempo rides or high intensity interval training rides where it basically takes your heart to the max. It gives you elasticity and muscle strength in the heart and trains you to go to your maximum heart rate. I’m 62, and my theoretical max heart rate is probably around 158, but I try to go for 170 pretty regularly because I know I’m outside the norm for a male my age, so I can take my heart up to 172. But I don’t go over that.”

What kind of shape do you think you’d be in if you didn’t take up cycling again?

“I think I would suffer from higher blood pressure. I would still have arrhythmia, higher than before. I’d weight probably 25 pounds more. My goal is to drop another 20, but it’s going to take me a few years. But over seven years I’ve lost 20 pounds of fat and probably picked up five pounds of muscle. I modulate my routine and take time to warm up, and then I’ll just go at it. The cardio benefits are incredible. I notice it now.”



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